KEYWORDS for Mimetic Theory are so named because no specialized glossary is needed for these interconnected ideas; only the word “mimetic” itself is remote from everyday, commonplace usage.
Mimetic anthropology is a unified theory of human culture, where the meaning of each term implies all the others.
APOCALYPTIC has no peculiar meaning for mimetic theory, which nonetheless endows it with a sense of historical urgency. Mimetic theory follows mainstream exegesis in arguing that what is “unveiled” at and as the Last Judgment (in the book of Revelation, in Daniel, and numerous other prophetic texts) is the world-ending violence that humanity calls down upon itself in its escalating spirals of rivalry. Hebrew and Christian scriptures are the original host to the insights of mimetic anthropology, the science (logos) of human (anthropos) self-understanding. Biblical prophecy issues from structural intuitions about human interaction as it stems from mimetic desire and leads to ultimately catastrophic violence.
DESIRE is what makes us human, as opposed to biological needs, such as food, shelter, and reproduction, which we share with other members of the animal kingdom. Desire is essentially, inherently mimetic, other-centered, as it depends on models, such as parents and peers, to identify its objects, to represent them as desirable. Desires issue from culture, not from nature, from other humans, not from instincts or the individual self, who is an altogether relative, relational, interdependent being.
INTERDIVIDUALITY highlights our relational and accordingly incomplete being. As the only neologism in mimetic theory, it is intended to correct the widespread notion that we have of humans as single, autonomous self-sufficient and self-directing individuals, an illusion that our greatest literary works regularly dispel.
MEDIATION points to the fact that between any human subject and its object of desire, there is a mediator or model who designates the object-- person, place, or thing--as desirable, attractive. When the model is beyond the reach of the subject, either because of unassailable priority in history or in a stable hierarchical order, we have external mediation: the subject and the rival cannot come into conflict.
If this model inhabits the same social world as the subject as an equal, we have internal mediation, in which subject and model interact in ways that can lead to rivalry and ultimately to conflict when they desire the very same object.
METAPHYSICAL DESIRE names the fact that a subject’s imitation of a model may focus on the objects in another’s possession, which is what is meant by acquisitive or appropriative desire; but that focus is ultimately nourished by a desire to be the model, to embody, and thereby, displace or destroy the model. This is most often not a conscious, deliberate strategy, not a plan that is singly conceived in the mind of a subject. It emerges from an interactive dynamic that is most often non-conscious.
MIMETIC, therefore, is preferred to its Latinate synonym, “imitative,” in describing human relations, since the latter term most often implies an awareness and conscious choice to copy others’ behavior. This is rarely the case except in consumer fashion and advertising and in financial speculation; it is never the case for the human infant who learns by miming and matching gestures and sounds from adult models. Mimesis is much less conscious and deliberate than we imagine in our adult behavior with one another.
MYTH is a narrative which contemporary parlance rightly alleges to be untrue. As we learn from the study of archaic religions, all myths narrate cultural origins as issuing from a supernatural intervention, the action of asacred being, a divinity which is to be worshipped and propitiated by ritual sacrifice. For mimetic theory this god is a mystified transformation of the victim of uncontrolled violence, when the rivalry of all against all streamlines into the violence of all against one, resulting in concord, in harmonious action. Myth hides the communal violence that leads to the unanimous destruction of a victim, which is retrospectively viewed as a god for the unified order which its unanimous destruction occasions.
RELIGION may have its etymological roots in Latin religare, to bind up or tie together, as a community is united by its devotion to a divinity which it fails to see as the victim of its unanimous, sacrificial violence. Often described as an ensemble of beliefs and practices that organize a culture, religion consists chiefly of prohibitions regarding objects dangerous to desire, of rituals that carefully reenact violent disorder and perform reverence for sacred origins, and of myths that recount origins while disguising the foundational role of the scapegoat victim.
SACRED names what archaic religion considers as both beneficent and terrible, being the name for what both protects the community from without and threatens it from within. The sacred is good to respect at a distance, and to ritually and reverently propitiate in quest of its protection; it is terrible in its proximity, being imagined as the unearthly cause of natural calamities: plague, drought, famine. Ritual propitiation does not allay these scourges, but scrupulous attention, variation and refinement of ritual techniques may advance technologies, affording possibilities of pre-scientific induction in metallurgy, agriculture, and animal husbandry.
SACRIFICE is literally the “making sacred” (sacer facere) of a victim of violent unanimity, the victim who is the effective substitute for the violence of all and whose unanimous destruction ensures social concord. The substitution of animals for human victims only replicates the original substitutive mechanism, while clearly reflecting the need for victims whose destruction will not occasion reprisals from those nearest them.
SACRIFICIAL CRISIS erupts with the weakening of the differences (sacred/ profane, permitted/prohibited, inside/outside the culture, etc.) that provide order in a community, and is resolved by ritual reenactment of cultural origins.
SATAN is the name in Yahwist cultures for the embodiment of evil, for incarnate, personalized malevolence. In ancient Hebrew culture, Satan is the accuser, the disseminator of discord among humans. For mimetic anthropology, Satan is mimetic rivalry personified and psychologized as a single principle, apex or nadir, of ill will. It can be a misleading name for all-too-human hostilities generated by toxic interactions of envy, resentment, and myriad offenses.
SCANDAL gives offense and arouses indignation. Mimetic theory spells out its interactive core, involving a complex or structure of interpersonal relations that extends to all levels of social organization. From the Greek word meaning "stumbling block," scandal names the offense that our conduct gives to others and that insidiously trips them up, as it models their hostile conduct towards us, whether it is by reproving or replicating, that is, unwittingly miming our own. Scandal names the other as fascinating obstacle.
SCAPEGOAT is used in the modern, everyday sense that the Biblical critique of sacrificial practices has bequeathed to us: a person or group that is made to take the blame for more widely distributed guilt. Sacrificial victims are scapegoats for communal violence, and our knowledge of a victim’s innocence, from Jesus through Dreyfus, gives the lie to substitutionary mechanisms and the myths, racist, nationalist, ideological, etc., that sustain them.
VIOLENCE is not conceived of in terms of a punctual event or a series of events, but as a relation that issues from mimetic rivalry and that tends to escalate limitlessly, especially in our time, by mimetic reciprocation.